Cazneaux and BHP

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Harold Cazneaux, Untitled (Structure B.H.P.) 1934

This handsome picture was made by the great Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux. It’s a finely balanced play of abstract shapes and it came out of a plum job.

In the early 1930s, Cazneaux was given the best commission one could imagine: shoot all of BHP’s industrial and mining installations throughout Australia in your own way. He was given a year or more to do it and the results were to be published in prestige jubilee publication in 1934. The resulting book, which I once bought for just one dollar, was full of his images in beautiful duotone printing on textured paper.

By the 1930s, Cazneaux was our most eminent photographer. He had won international attention for his Pictorialist photographs, was the first to hold a solo exhibition of photographs, had established an art photography movement, and was well known as a society portraitist and landscape artist. The BHP assignment rounded out his CV with industrial photographs of great beauty.

One of the marks of this work is the way it applies Pictorialist aesthetics to a subject normally associated with the hard modern look of the Bauhaus style. Where Cazneaux emphasized smoke and haze as a way of screening the harsh realities of industry, the German photographers emphasized the brutal steel and concrete as forming a new machine art. To illustrate this, just compare these relatively soft images with the later industrial work of Wolfgang Sievers who was trained in a Bauhaus-style photography school in Berlin.

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Blast Furnace, Newcastle, 1934

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Rolling Steel Plates, Newcastle, 1934

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Steam and Sunshine, 1934

 

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